My mother used to tell me that I was born after a lot of prayers. She never thought she would have a child but when she was in utter despair and the least hopeful, she conceived. She believed that I was a reward, and a gift to her from lord Krishna and so I was named after him. She told me that they’d not left one temple in the city on the threshold of which they had not cracked open a coconut or made pious offerings. She would gather me onto her lap and tell me that the stories of lord Krishna and I loved those stories to listen; in fact I wouldn’t be able to sleep without hearing one. However, there was one particular thing about lord Krishna which I didn’t like that he had an irrepressible penchant for butter, yogurt and milk and he stole it from his neighborhood.

“He stole! How can this ever be justified? Isn’t stealing an odious act,” I would ask my mother with a young, curious and rational mind of a child.

“You shouldn’t question God’s ways my child,” she would say stroking my hair. I would get furious at her for defending thievery and she had to agree with me eventually.

I was very close to my mother. Only her touch could induce sleep in me. I was accustomed to sleeping next to her. I would keep holding her hands while sleeping. Not a single night I had slept separate from her. There were times when my father had asked me to sleep alone and led me to another room where I kept twirling on my bed. However, it wouldn’t be long before my mother came and took me with her. It was quite evident that she too couldn’t sleep without me. She had built a small garden up on the terrace, where she would spend most of the time of her day. I remember, I would always be there with her, bringing mug of water from the tap downstairs. She had some trick, I think, as her plants would always be green irrespective of the ever changing seasons, be it autumn or the cold fierce winter or the scorching summer. Her plants remained green and it seemed as if they all were smitten with her, just like me. However, not only plants were in love with her, there were birds too, who waited early in the morning for her to give grains and seeds to them. Some even dared to come closer to a touching distance, and one red whiskered Bulbul even ate from her hands. In her all these musings and hobbies I remained with her, like I was tucked to the end of her sari. Also, like she had tied me there. I was more like a never disappearing shadow to her.  Wherever we would go together, there was much talk about our attachment. My mother’s friends would laugh by saying, “Your son is your tail, always trailing behind you; he doesn’t leave you anywhere.”

People say I’m exactly like my mother, but how can it be true, my plants are not that green and birds do not eat from my hands.

My mother was a patient of Arrhythmia, a cardiovascular disease, and we would go to visit the doctor every weekend. During the course of time, my mother’s health deteriorated and one day the doctor told my father that she should prepare herself for a bypass surgery soon. My father started collecting money for the treatment. He gave tuitions and with his meager earnings he could hardly make ends meet. I recall the night when the house went penniless and there was no money to buy vegetables for dinner. My father’s payment was due in two days and he had no option other than asking my mother to bring my clay piggy bank to him. I cried relentlessly, beating my feet on the ground, not ready to succumb, when I saw my father holding my piggy bank. He persuaded me only to take a coin. “Only one coin, no more and no less,” he said. I didn’t talk to him for two days.

Soon my mother took to bed and developed bedsores. Sometimes she would feel very miserable and I could detect anxiety in her face but I kept her calm. My father was still saving for her treatment when it happened.

I still visualize that chilly, frosty night of December in detail. It’s safe somewhere in my memory like a reel of a film. My father came back from tuitions late, splashed water on his face, ate his dinner and lied next to my mother; his stomach growled due to indigestion. The noisy fan churned over his head. The room was in the state of disarray. My mother’s clothes, saris, blouses and petticoats were scattered on the bed. Their wedding photo was sitting on my father’s studying table, and mine was next to it with long hairs cascading to my neck and the feather of a peacock plugged into my hair, dressed like lord Krishna. Acrid smell of onions flared his nostrils. He opened a book and was flipping its pages when my mother felt severe pain in her chest. She was finding it difficult to breath. My father put his hand on her chest to feel her irregular heartbeat. I was crying relentlessly. “It’s just one of her spasm attacks, don’t cry, she’ll be fine,” he said to me. Although, he himself was crying and looked alarmed. He opened his almirah in haste to take out his savings while my mother kept groaning in pain. He kept it safe down in his right pocket as he had no purse. He put her things, her clothes, a towel, a bowl, a glass, and a few mattresses in a bag, and on the side he thrust his book. He put on his plain white shirt, pulled on a half sweater and rushed to the street stepping on the shit of cows and dogs to look for an auto rickshaw.

After a few minutes I heard a vehicle pull up to our house, casting a patch of light on the scattered shit on the road. I saw my father emerging from the back seat of the auto rickshaw, fidgeting and adjusting his glasses over his nose. I could see deep worrying furrows on his forehead and his red swollen eyes. He helped my mother to the auto rickshaw, holding her from under her arms, wrapped her in a shawl as she sat in with difficulty. I sat next to my mother- eyes welled with tears.

The noisy auto rickshaw jumped and bounced on the uneven ground, alone in the night leading us to the hospital through the meandering roads. There was not a single soul outside. Only mongrels and cows were curled up on the roadside to warm themselves, like warriors braving the frigid winter.

I don’t remember what happened after that night or when I slept. All I know is that the next day, before dawn my father woke me.

“Your mother has departed this life, but don’t feel bad, she’s safe in heaven now,” he said sobbing.

I felt the earth trembling beneath my feet. I was devastated. Although, it didn’t occur to me then that she would never return.

Then I saw my mother’s cold body was lying on the ground. Her thin, delicate skin was stuck to her bones; her mouth was half open as if she wanted to say something to me. I heard people talking around me that her poor soul left her body through her mouth. I thought of closing it, assuming that there must be something left in her body which if not let out could bring her back to life.

I asked my father if she would be back someday. I still believed that my mother would return. How could she leave me for so many days, I thought. She must be missing me and she would come again and hug me and apologize for being gone for so many days.

But she didn’t return and I started thinking what wrong I did for such tormentors’ treatment. With the passing days my hopes debilitated and I was instilled with insurmountable unhappiness. The anguish was unendurable. I would go to bed and close my eyes so that everybody thought I was sleeping but I had not been sleeping for many days.

I recall, during those evenings while my father cooked dinner, just to keep myself engaged and forget the excruciating pain of my loss, I would get out of bed and sit by the window which overlooked the street and watch the traffic passing by. The road was full of speeding motorcycles, rattling cars, bicycles hurrying along, the cotton candy seller walking back to his home with a chiming bell in his hand, only to get my mother out of my mind. But it couldn’t keep me distracted for long as on the same street I would see a child walking by his mother’s side, holding her hands firmly and it reduced me to tears. It drove me deeper and deeper into melancholy and I started to pray with a sinking heart: “Dear Krishna, I apologize for whatever wrong I said about you. It wasn’t my intention to be cross with you. Please acknowledge my earnest request. You’re God of universe. You’re omnipotent. As you stole butter from your neighborhood, in the same way please steal my mother from heaven and bring her to me.”

Nothing of the magical sort came from my prayer, but it did easy my restlessness. I could only hope Krishna heard my plea to bring back my mother.

My mother used to tell me that I was born after a lot of prayers. She never thought she would have a child but when she was in utter despair and the least hopeful, she conceived. She believed that I was a reward, and a gift to her from lord Krishna and so I was named after him. She told me that they’d not left one temple in the city on the threshold of which they had not cracked open a coconut or made pious offerings. She would gather me onto her lap and tell me that the stories of lord Krishna and I loved those stories to listen; in fact I wouldn’t be able to sleep without hearing one. However, there was one particular thing about lord Krishna which I didn’t like that he had an irrepressible penchant for butter, yogurt and milk and he stole it from his neighborhood.

“He stole! How can this ever be justified? Isn’t stealing an odious act,” I would ask my mother with a young, curious and rational mind of a child.

“You shouldn’t question God’s ways my child,” she would say stroking my hair. I would get furious at her for defending thievery and she had to agree with me eventually.

I was very close to my mother. Only her touch could induce sleep in me. I was accustomed to sleeping next to her. I would keep holding her hands while sleeping. Not a single night I had slept separate from her. There were times when my father had asked me to sleep alone and led me to another room where I kept twirling on my bed. However, it wouldn’t be long before my mother came and took me with her. It was quite evident that she too couldn’t sleep without me. She had built a small garden up on the terrace, where she would spend most of the time of her day. I remember, I would always be there with her, bringing mug of water from the tap downstairs. She had some trick, I think, as her plants would always be green irrespective of the ever changing seasons, be it autumn or the cold fierce winter or the scorching summer. Her plants remain green and it seemed as if they all were smitten with her, just like me. However, not only plants were in love with her, there were birds too, who waited early in the morning for her to give grains and seeds to them. Some even dared to come closer to a touching distance, and one red whiskered Bulbul even ate from her hands. In her all these musings and hobbies I remained with her, like I was tucked to the end of her sari. Also, like she had tied me there. I was more like a never disappearing shadow to her.  Wherever we would go together, there was much talk about our attachment. My mother’s friends would laugh by saying, “Your son is your tail, always trailing behind you; he doesn’t leave you anywhere.”

People say I’m exactly like my mother, but how can it be true, my plants are not that green and birds do not eat from my hands.

My mother was a patient of Arrhythmia, a cardiovascular disease, and we would go to visit the doctor every weekend. During the course of time, my mother’s health deteriorated and one day the doctor told my father that she should prepare herself for a bypass surgery soon. My father started collecting money for the treatment. He gave tuitions and with his meager earnings he could hardly make ends meet. I recall the night when the house went penniless and there was no money to buy vegetables for dinner. My father’s payment was due in two days and he had no option other than asking my mother to bring my clay piggy bank to him. I cried relentlessly, beating my feet on the ground, not ready to succumb, when I saw my father holding my piggy bank. He persuaded me only to take a coin. “Only one coin, no more and no less,” he said. I didn’t talk to him for two days.

Soon my mother took to bed and developed bedsores. Sometimes she would feel very miserable and I could detect anxiety in her face but I kept her calm. My father was still saving for her treatment when it happened.

I still visualize that chilly, frosty night of December in detail. It’s safe somewhere in my memory like a reel of a film. My father came back from tuitions late, splashed water on his face, ate his dinner and lied next to my mother; his stomach growled due to indigestion. The noisy fan churned over his head. The room was in the state of disarray. My mother’s clothes, saris, blouses and petticoats were scattered on the bed. Their wedding photo was sitting on my father’s studying table, and mine was next to it with long hairs cascading to my neck and the feather of a peacock plugged into my hair, dressed like lord Krishna. Acrid smell of onions flared his nostrils. He opened a book and was flipping its pages when my mother felt severe pain in her chest. She was finding it difficult to breath. My father put his hand on her chest to feel her irregular heartbeat. I was crying relentlessly. “It’s just one of her spasm attacks, don’t cry, she’ll be fine,” he said to me. Although, he himself was crying and looked alarmed. He opened his almirah in haste to take out his savings while my mother kept groaning in pain. He kept it safe down in his right pocket as he had no purse. He put her things, her clothes, a towel, a bowl, a glass, and a few mattresses in a bag, and on the side he thrust his book. He put on his plain white shirt, pulled on a half sweater and rushed to the street stepping on the shit of cows and dogs to look for an auto rickshaw.

After a few minutes I heard a vehicle pull up to our house, casting a patch of light on the scattered shit on the road. I saw my father emerging from the back seat of the auto rickshaw, fidgeting and adjusting his glasses over his nose. I could see deep worrying furrows on his forehead and his red swollen eyes. He helped my mother to the auto rickshaw, holding her from under her arms, wrapped her in a shawl as she sat in with difficulty. I sat next to my mother- eyes welled with tears.

The noisy auto rickshaw jumped and bounced on the uneven ground, alone in the night leading us to the hospital through the meandering roads. There was not a single soul outside. Only mongrels and cows were curled up on the roadside to warm themselves, like warriors braving the frigid winter.

I don’t remember what happened after that night or when I slept. All I know is that the next day, before dawn my father woke me.

“Your mother has departed this life, but don’t feel bad, she’s safe in heaven now,” he said sobbing.

I felt the earth trembling beneath my feet. I was devastated. Although, it didn’t occur to me then that she would never return.

Then I saw my mother’s cold body was lying on the ground. Her thin, delicate skin was stuck to her bones; her mouth was half open as if she wanted to say something to me. I heard people talking around me that her poor soul left her body through her mouth. I thought of closing it, assuming that there must be something left in her body which if not let out could bring her back to life.

I asked my father if she would be back someday. I still believed that my mother would return. How could she leave me for so many days, I thought. She must be missing me and she would come again and hug me and apologize for being gone for so many days.

But she didn’t return and I started thinking what wrong I did for such tormentors’ treatment. With the passing days my hopes debilitated and I was instilled with insurmountable unhappiness. The anguish was unendurable. I would go to bed and close my eyes so that everybody thought I was sleeping but I had not been sleeping for many days.

I recall, during those evenings while my father cooked dinner, just to keep myself engaged and forget the excruciating pain of my loss, I would get out of bed and sit by the window which overlooked the street and watch the traffic passing by. The road was full of speeding motorcycles, rattling cars, bicycles hurrying along, the cotton candy seller walking back to his home with a chiming bell in his hand, only to get my mother out of my mind. But it couldn’t keep me distracted for long as on the same street I would see a child walking by his mother’s side, holding her hands firmly and it reduced me to tears. It drove me deeper and deeper into melancholy and I started to pray with a sinking heart: “Dear Krishna, I apologize for whatever wrong I said about you. It wasn’t my intention to be cross with you. Please acknowledge my earnest request. You’re God of universe. You’re omnipotent. As you stole butter from your neighborhood, in the same way please steal my mother from heaven and bring her to me.”

Nothing of the magical sort came from my prayer, but it did easy my restlessness. I could only hope Krishna heard my plea to bring back my mother.

 

 

Vivek Nath Mishra is a city flaneur walking through the stories. His short stories have been published by The Hindu and an Australian publication Urbaine and Insane.